With practical examples, Daniel Akabueze illustrates how to use this tool.
Photo by Wayne Lee-Sing on Unsplash
I'd like to start this article by telling you some stories about kindness and how it can change many things in our world. With each of the stories, I'll point out some acts of kindness in them, and how you and I, as students of HSE University or citizens of a global community, irrespective of our color, language, accent, or culture, can change the world.
The Passport Control Officer
In my first article (What I learned from coming and living in Russia, which was about ten things that no one will tell you about Russia and Russians) I started my Russian experience with a story about a middle-aged passport control officer that I met at DME airport in Moscow. That woman, who became my practical encounter with a Russian, changed my attitude. I said practical encounter because I already wrote in that article about my necessary preparations before coming to Russia, and next to my seat on the airplane was a Russian lady. She, the passport control officer, despite the long queue of arrivals at Domodedovo Airport, had a warm smile. I observed that almost all the people she attended had ebullient looks afterward.
In the mind of most people, that woman, the passport control officer, represented all the Russians. I remember thinking about her inside the train station. Do you want to demolish stereotypes and prejudices? Be kind. Although we have to behave ourselves at passport control, I'm not sure anyone can act rudely towards that woman if given the chance. To validate the importance of kindness as a means of deconstructing prejudice and stereotypes, Dr. Ben Carson said and I paraphrase, "Be nice (kind) to people. When they get over their suspicion about why you're being nice (kind) to them, they'll be nice (kind) to you as well. And so much can be achieved through that." The person you're kind to, may not reciprocate immediately, but keep doing that. There's a tendency, that the act of kindness you extend to one person, will be reciprocated by that person to another.
The Man in The Subway Train
On the 10th of October, 2022, I went to pay my visa extension fee. Apart from the difficulty in locating the Sberbank branch where I'll make the payment, the bank requires that I open an account with them and get a bank card with 2000₽, which I couldn't afford to pay at that time. My mood changed, as I went home very sad, thinking about how I'll be able to make the payment before the deadline, without having to get the bank card. It's easier in Nigeria, where you can pay cash through the cashier, but it's a bit sophisticated here in Russia, as you have to have an account with the bank and a bank card before you can pay. I don't know if it's the same with all the banks, but it's my experience with Sberbank around Spasskaya Metro Station in Saint Petersburg.
When I entered the subway train: weak and angry and confused, a Russian man, probably in his early thirties, who was drunk, approached me and started speaking and laughing. I was petrified. He will speak calmly this time, and the next time, his voice will be raised, and then, he'll scream very loudly, and laugh. "Holy Spirit, deliver me from this man!" I prayed within, as I tried to maintain calmness.
Other passengers were just looking at both of us, some stood up from their seats, moved a little bit from both of us, and started laughing, which I considered weird and childish — laughing when a foreigner is seemingly in danger. I was the only black person on the train. I had never felt so defeated and vulnerable as I did that day on the train.
No one said a word to both of us, unlike what I was used to in Nigeria, where people quickly rise against such things.
The man who was under the influence of alcohol said something about East Africa. I am from Nigeria in West Africa and I don't know anywhere in East Africa. Some people I encountered here as an international student in Russia, often think that Africa is a country, not knowing that Africa is a Continent with 54 independent countries, living separately in clearly defined boundaries, with their different beauties, cultures, and peculiarities.
I was silently praying for the train to reach my destination or the man's destination before he could get more violent and probably start hitting me. Although I made up my mind to fight back if that turned out to be the case. Self-defense is better than allowing yourself to be bullied by a drunkard. I know you're laughing reading this. Well, it was not funny that day. But something happened along the line. One elderly man, who looked embarrassed, came to us and looked at the drunkard, annoyingly displeased. He, the drunkard, then diverted his attention to the man, until we got to where the drunk left the train.
The elderly man had some privileges which I don't have. Both were Whites and spoke the same language. He used that privilege of being White and Russian to rescue me from what could have ended so badly as you're reading it now. That is an act of kindness despite how insignificant it may appear to be.
How The Tool Works and Why The World Is Still Not A Better Place
As a student, do you keep silent, minding your business, when someone is obviously in a bad situation? Do you offer assistance to someone who's obviously struggling? I know that it's easy to say, "But my assistance wasn't asked for'' forgetting that the courage to ask for help is dependent on the environment and self-esteem. I am not saying that you should be going about poking into people's lives, but "Hope you're alright?" with a warm smile, could be the tool to get into someone's heart, get to know their problem, and possibly offer assistance.
Life is happening to people and the struggle can be real, but your act of kindness: that warm smile; that message on VK or Telegram or WhatsApp; that "I am checking up on you because I didn't see you in class today"; that little money or gift you give to someone; that "do you care hanging around with us this evening" can restore hope to a hopeless being. And through that, you've contributed towards the progress of our world.
It would be unwise to write about the act of kindness I had witnessed as an international student at HSE University without highlighting some unkind, inhumane attitudes I've received as well. So, permit me to tell you one story. This story is to tell you that in the midst of kind and thoughtful humans, there are people who are so blinded by their stereotypes and prejudices that it's hard for them to see the humanity of others. To these kinds of people; whether in Africa, or in Asia, Europe, in North or Latin America, individuals who look differently or speak differently are just objects. The worst is when you're a person of color, like me.
At the entrance of metro stations, there are officers, who supposedly, are expected to regulate normalcy amongst the subway users. My entry point to the subway when going back from school is often through Spasskaya, and on most occasions, I'll meet these stern humans who are officers of the government. Some of them barely speak English. They'd use their hand to direct me to a section where I'll be screened.
At first, I thought the screening was a result of government regulation, which is true, or because I have a heavy laptop carrier; a black, multiple-zipped, one-sided bag, which I was gifted by Scripture Union Nigeria, Onitsha Zone, but I was wrong. I was wrong because on two occasions, I've seen people who had bags heavier and more suspicious than mine being allowed to enter the subway. On one of the occasions, it dawned on me that I was being screened because of my personality; a black, bearded person, who looked so different.
I wrote "person" to describe myself, maybe, those officers aren't even seeing me as a person.
One of the annoying days was when an officer insisted that I had something in my pocket, even when the search gadget or detector didn't detect harmful objects rather than my student ID and metro cards. He neither believed me nor the detecting gadget. He had to check me with his hand, pressing around my body as I stood there, befuddled and annoyingly speechless. What kind of immature personal orientation, what display of inconsequential performative jingoism, what unnecessary racial hierarchy, what selfish impunity, what hidden malady, can make a government officer insist on hand searching me, even in the face of evidence? It's unkind, inhumane, barbaric, and crude.
This officer, like many other people in different countries, is the reason why the world is still not a better place. The truth is that things can get better. I cannot say categorically when it'll get better, but with our collective efforts, progress can be made, and our world can be better, fairer, and more worthy of living.
Remember that kindness doesn't mean displeasing yourself to please others. It can be, sometimes, taking a seemingly unpleasant approach toward a person to save them from unnecessary danger. Allowing your friend who is not given to study to fail his or her examination, after you've warned him or her is kindness. Failure will teach him or her the necessity of hard work. And while kindness is conditional and also contextual, it's wise enough to know that any kindness that makes you go against a generally established rule just to favor one person is not kindness.
To conclude this writing, permit me to tell you about the academic supervisor of my program; Political Science and World Politics, Mr. Yury Kabanov. Mr. Yury can spend enough time explaining a particular concept to the students, allowing the students to ask questions about a seminar text a few minutes before writing a quiz, but he'll not hesitate to give anyone 3/10, if that's the score at the end of a quiz. Mr. Yury is friendly, diligent, and very kind.
Daniel Onyekachukwu Akabueze